Friend’s Dreams Get Man 40 Years Jail

The so ever-present question about protection for the members of society from vicious killers versus the risk of wrongly incarcerating (or, in the worst case scenario, killing) innocent human beings have recently been actualized in two spectacular cases where both presumed “killers” have been set free.

Mary Virginia Jones, 74, got her get out of jail free card from the judge this Monday; after spending more than three decades wrongfully incarcerated for murder, kidnapping and robbery. Ryan Ferguson was a bit luckier. He walked out of prison a free man November last year after only just shy of ten years behind bars. This obviously raises some questions about the American legal system, especially how it’s implemented on a day-to-day basis. How many people are serving sentences for crimes they didn’t commit? But it’s also fascinating on a purely theoretical level. What should our standards be? Are Mary Virginia Jones’ 30 wrongful years in prison the price we as a society should accept her to pay so we can sleep safer at night? And can we really find it reasonable that Ryan Ferguson takes one for the team and spends his young, formative years locked up? We can shout till the cows come home about “toughness on crime” or even better, the “war on crime”, but the fact of the matter is this:

People’s lives are getting destroyed.

Ryan Ferguson talking with his lawyer Kathleen Zellner.

Ryan Ferguson talking with his lawyer Kathleen Zellner.

The other side of the coin is, however, equally problematic: Lunatics, people who refuse to adjust to the laws of our societies and consistently inflict harm upon others, needs to be locked up. There needs to be a line in the sand. The only question is where it should be. A more lenient approach, with harsher requirements when it comes to sentencing could keep people who deserve to stay on the streets out of prison. And take note, we’re not talking about changing any laws here, it’s the application of said laws and how law enforcement and the judicial system interprets them that could possibly be adjusted. The case of Ryan Ferguson just happens to be a brilliant example of how the authorities’ practical implementations of the law can lead to disaster. Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that he was convicted solely on dreams (supressed memories, supposedly) conjured up by his drug-addicted friend, and the testimony that followed from them. Even if we disregard the fact that supressed memories has been frowned upon by the expertise for the last 15 years or so, no physical evidence (and there were heaps) could be pinned to Ferguson. Still, he got 40 years.

On the other hand, you’ve got people like Jared Remy of Waltham, Massachusetts, who after being a criminal defendant 19 times for abusing various girlfriends now is suspected for finally murdering one of them. The Boston Globe wrote a piece about this, “For Jared Remy, leniency was the rule until one lethal night”. One could definitely argue that in this case, leniency stole a young girl’s life away.

However you choose to look at it, there is a price to pay. The question we, as a society, have to ask ourselves is how to make it as low as possible.

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Torbjörn Holde

Torbjörn has a bachelor degree in Criminology from Stockholm University and has worked for 1 year at the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande Rådet). Torbjörn is based in Paris, France.

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